Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas


John Steuart Curry: Agrarian Allegories
  • John Steuart Curry: Agrarian Allegories
  • 12-Aug-2006 - 04-Nov-2006
  • North Balcony, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas

This monographic exhibition presents work by noted Regionalist and Kansas native John Steuart Curry (1897-1946). John Steuart Curry: Agrarian Allegories considers both the artist's working methods, and his creation of iconic, Midwestern characters in his development of a regional identity. The exhibition features sketches for projects such as the Topeka Statehouse murals, including designs for the Statehouse Rotunda that were never executed, and costume designs intended for an adaptation of Carl Sandburg's poem, "Prairie." These examples reveal Curry's use of symbols and archetypes such as the farmer, the tornado, and livestock to further his Midwestern pictorial narrative. The exhibition draws primarily from the Spencer's permanent collection with additional loans from the Beach Museum of Art at Kansas State University and the Lawrence Arts Center. Curry was born on a farm near the town of Dunavant (near Oskaloosa, in northeast Kansas) and spent his youth in Kansas before leaving for art school in Kansas City, Mo., and later, Chicago. He received major attention in 1931, when the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York purchased Baptism in Kansas. In the 1930s, Curry, along with Thomas Hart Benton from Missouri and Grant Wood from Iowa, earned national acclaim for his Midwestern imagery. The popularity of Curry's work in New York contrasted sharply with its mixed reception in the Midwest, where some Kansans felt paintings of baptisms in cattle troughs and wild weather popularized only negative aspects of the Sunflower State. In 1937, Curry's exposure in Kansas increased when he earned a commission to paint the Topeka Statehouse murals. This project created such tension between Curry's vision of the state and that held by many Kansans that some of the murals were never completed, and those on view in Topeka today were never signed.

Invaluable assistance in documenting Carl Sandburg's "Prairie" on our walls was provided by Candi Baker, Ione Unruh, and Mike Manley.